The 2009 Nestbox Diary

March (part 2)

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11 March - The Starlings' day started earlier than ever. They were both alert by 6am and out of the box by 6.22am, with the first visit by the female coming at 6.50am.

First bits of straw brought into Starling boxes

The Starlings must have read yesterday's entry - at 7.55am the female first entered box R with some straw in her beak, and then took it into box L instead. Moments later the male brought a bit into box L as well.

Five minutes later and the male was leaving some straw in box R!


After I wrote that, the male brought another couple of bits into box R only to have them removed by his partner over the next couple of minutes - it seems she prefers box L! Having said that, by 9.45am she had also cleared box L again!!!

The morning's activities went on until just after 10am, by which there were only a couple of straw bits in the two boxes, so it seemed more like a false start this morning.

Starlings in stand-off this evening


At the end of the day there was a bit of coming and going. At 5.35pm both birds entered box L but left straight away. At 5.48pm they entered their own boxes, but then the female headed into box R to join her partner.

An uneasy period, albeit with no actual fighting, lasted for about ten minutes before the female (on the right in this picture) headed back into box L and both birds settled down for the night.



Unusual behaviour during Great Tit visit - 1

The Great Tits performed a change-over visit to their box at 7.30am. The pair's behaviour wasn't quite the same as usual this time.

Instead of simply crouching down on the arrival of his partner he managed to do a complete circumnavigation of the box while in that crouched posture.



Unusual behaviour during Great Tit visit - 2


When she landed the female turned her back on the male immediately before turning back towards the exit and pausing. Then she spun round towards her partner and  reached over so that she was able to, it seems, peck his beak before turning away again.

At this point the male left immediately and she spent the next minute inspecting the corners of the box very closely.


Just after 8am the female brought in another length of moss rhizoid(?) and performed several shuffles.

The first signs of nest building in the Great Tit box


Since then there have been more deliveries, and this was the state of the box at 9.27am, and with clear signs of organisation (through shuffling) within the hour.

The bar across the top of the image indicates that recording is in progress (started at 6am), and you'll notice from the above sequence that the entrance now has a dark 'halo' around it. This will now be present through the rest of the nesting season.

The halo is produced by the presence of crossed polarising filters between the camera and the entrance. These are put into place to reduce the effect that the bright outside light has on the camera's electronic light metering.


The Great Tit female starts bringing in nesting materials


The deliveries continued through the morning, and I counted eighteen visits before they ended at 11.53am, the last visit including a couple of vigorous shuffles.

There was one more bit of action in the box when the male turned up at 3.14pm and another change-over sequence took place - a straightforward one this time.


The Great Tit nestbox tonight


This is the state of the nest tonight.

This reminds me that I need to get some fresh batteries for the flashgun that is installed above the nestbox, and test it before a bird takes up residence.



And I must not forget the Robins. The first visit of the day was seen at 7.03am, and continued all through the day, with the last one recorded at 4.53pm. Only a few times did I see the female go into the box with bits in her beak. She doesn't stay in there, and her behaviour is not what I would expect if egg laying had begun, and for that matter I have yet to see the pair engage in courtship behaviour in the garden.


12 March - Well, it seems like the Starlings definitely made a false start yesterday. This morning at 8am there is not a single bit of straw to be seen in either box! Five minutes ago the Great Tits carried out one of their 'change-over' visits, but no more bits have been added to that box as yet this morning. The female Robin has just visited her box and as I write this both Robins have come to feed.

By 10.30am, nothing had been brought into either Great Tit or Starling boxes. The weather this morning is overcast and very dull, compared with the bright conditions of yesterday which brought a high of 13C by the early afternoon. Overnight the temperature didn't drop below 8C and by 10.30 am it had only crept up by a degree.

It turned out to be a day of no progress in the Great Tit and Starling boxes. The Great Tits made four change-over visits between 7.50am and 12.56pm, and the female made two more visits during the morning. However, She brought nothing in and only performed two shuffles all morning.

The Starlings were alert by 6am, out at 6.27am, and the female's first visit was at 6.47am. The last visit of the morning involved the male going into box L at 9.08am and singing. His partner appeared at the entrance but didn't go in.

She appeared next when she visited both boxes at 4.28pm and again at 4.40pm. She entered box L at 5.42pm and the male went into box R four minutes later, but at 5.54pm they left again. They finally entered the two boxes to roost at 6.04pm.

And the Robin(s) - the first visit to their box came at 6.55am and visits continued all day, with the last one seen at 4.46pm. There was no sign of anything being taken in and I'm still not seeing any interaction between the pair.


13 March - I'm afraid that it's another day without pictures! This week has been one of those tired weeks for me, just as things are starting to get interesting.

Anyway, after what was virtually a day off yesterday, the Great Tit box saw quite a bit of activity during the first part of the morning, with the first change-over visit taking place at 8.04am and seventeen more visits (including another change-over visit). Each time, the female brought in a bit of plant material, although I only saw one length of moss rhizoid brought in.

The Great Tit nestbox after another morning of nest building


Although no more materials were brought in during the rest of the day, the pair visited again at 2.08pm and 4.12pm.

I know that I said 'no pictures' today, but I just had to record today's progress. Despite what I said above, it appears that it is all moss 'roots'.


In contrast to the Great Tit activity, the Starlings had another quiet morning. They were active by 6am and out at 6.16am. The female's first visit was at 6.30am. There were only a dozen visits between then and the last at 10.22am. At 9.35am the female shuffled in box R and at 9.47am she brought one piece of straw into box R.

At the end of the afternoon the female appeared in the boxes a couple of times around 6pm before the pair arrived together in box R at 6.10pm. Another edgy few minutes followed before the female headed into box L and the pair settled for the night.

The Robins continue to puzzle me. The first visit to their box was recorded at 6.31am. There was one more visit before 7am then over the next four hours there were 44 more visits. Then after 11am there were just four more visits, with the final visit of the day at 11.15am.

However, I couldn't see if anything was being taken in from what I saw on the cctv images, which leaves me a bit puzzled. If I can get myself going first thing tomorrow morning I may set myself up down the West Wing to take some photographs of the Robin on its was to the box. Perhaps that will help clarify things.



14 March - On a day that started quite dull but brightened up as the morning progressed, it seems some what confusing to see how to see all three species halted their nestbox activities  before the sun emerged and didn't restart as it got brighter.

The Great Tit female brings in the first green moss


The Great Tit female made her first visit of the day at 7.35am, returning next at 7.49am. At 8.16am there was a straight forward change-over visit and at 9 12am the female brought in her first moss bits of the day.

Three minutes later she brought in the first green moss.

Over the next hour there were six more deliveries of nesting materials and two change-over visits before the day's nest box activities ended at 10.22am.

The Great Tit nest tonight



The moss is evident in this picture of the nest tonight.



The Starlings were active by 6am and the male left first, at 6.19am with his partner following a minute later. The female made her first visit at 6.33am and over the next hour she spent the majority of her visits cleaning box R. The male only appeared in the boxes twice this morning, and on the one occasion when both birds were together (box L, 7.33am) there was no aggression or any other interaction, and they both left almost straight away. The final visit of the morning took place at 9.09am.

At the end of the afternoon, the question of where they go before roosting was answered - they meet up with their 'friends'!

My camera had been set up at the bottom of the garden and I was just bringing it back to the house at around 5.50pm when the sound of Starlings attracted my attention to a tall tree further down our road. In the upper branches were a dozen or so Starlings.

Some Starlings gathered before dusk


Unfortunately, by the time I found a spot from where I could photograph them a group had left, leaving these seven (and another out of shot). Long gone is the time when we would see hundreds pass overhead before dusk as they headed for their roost.


Over breakfast this morning I read an article in the April edition of the BBC Wildlife magazine about how younger people are unaware of how drastically birds like the Starling and the House Sparrow have declined. Research suggests that this could make efforts to help them more difficult to undertake.

Female Starling at box (6pm)


Anyway, moments after I took the photograph the rest of the Starlings took to the air, and 'our' pair flew to the TV antenna on my neighbours' roof, from where they could see the nestboxes.

While the male sang, the female flew down and took a quick look without entering either box.

For those who are not familiar with my Starling boxes, the aluminium screen was installed to prevent any bird that looked out from seeing the front end of our driveway, and more importantly, to hide from their sight any Swifts that were approaching their nest site in my Neighbours' roof.

Starlings at box at dusk


Both birds then flew off together, returning eight minutes later. There was some coming and going between the two boxes before both birds ended up in box L at 6.09pm.

The usual uneasy standoff continued for nearly twenty minutes before the male finally headed into box R and the pair settled for the night.




The Robin's day started at a late 8.37am, with three more visits by 9am. In the next hour she made fifteen visits with the one at 9.49am being the last of the morning.

Needless to say, despite my good intentions yesterday I didn't get down the garden in time to see if she carried anything into the box during those visits, but I did spend several hours down the West Wing after the activity was over!

Female Robin hunts amongst ground cover



Mind you, it wasn't time wasted. The male spent much of his time singing from various tree around the garden and although the female was often out of sight, she did spend quite a bit of time either hunting for food on the ground between the big pond and the Ivy tree,


Female Robin pauses during preening



or resting and preening in the safety of the Berberis bush.

Here she looks very scruffy as she pauses briefly during the preen. Interesting to hear her sing a short, and quiet sub-song during these pauses (while the male continued to sing loudly).


Female Robin after preening





By the time she had finished her plumage looked really fluffy,


Female Robin in Birch tree



and it wasn't until she had flown up to the Birch tree that she took on a somewhat smoother look again.



Female Robin spots the camera



She knew very well that I was about, even though I was hidden behind a screen and netting, and I couldn't help smiling when she gave the camera lens a long hard stare!

She was perched on one of the lines that are helping to stabilise the Ivy tree until I complete the job in the Summer.



Female Robin is approached by her partner

It was at 1.14pm that patience bore fruit. The female was perch on a Birch tree branch and looked as though she was about to fly across to the box. I had just pointed the camera and focused on her when she  suddenly away from me to greet her partner.

I only had time to take this one shot so I must assume that even though nothing can be seen in his beak he did pass a bit of food to her before flying off again. As soon as he was gone she did fly to the box and spent some four minutes in there - the last visit of the day.



15 March - A somewhat abbreviated entry today -

The Great Tit nest box tonight

The Great Tits continue with their nest building, with visits between 7.35am and 10.56am. During one change-over the female the female didn't appear for over a minute. The male seemed to get quite irate and was making a great deal of noise. Then the female did appear he just left immediately as usual. The male appeared at the entrance again at 4.38pm.

As this picture shows, quite a bit of moss was delivered.


The Starlings were alert by 6am. The male left at 6.07am but his partner didn't leave for another four minutes. The  morning followed the familiar pattern of visits which stopped by just after 9.30am.

Just a few lengths of straw were taken into both boxes and remained there all day.

The Starling nest boxes tonightAt the end of the day there was a brief visit by the female at 4.38pm before both birds arrived in box L at 5.59pm.

After the usual tense pause, the male headed off into box R at 6.05pm.


The Robins had an early start, with the first visits seen at 6.29am when the bird stayed in the box for just over three minutes. There were numerous visits in the next couple of hours, with their frequency dropping after 10am. In a significant change to what has been seen so far, at 11.14am the female entered the box and stayed form some twenty minutes, during which she was visited once by her partner.

Once the female left there were no further visits seen during the day, although I did see the male feed his partner during the afternoon, this time under the Hawthorn.


16 March - On a bright morning with hazy sunshine, activity in the boxes seems to have been  limited again. However, I can confirm that there is now an egg in the Robins' box, which may explain the lack of action there as morning progressed.

Looking at the cctv recording, I see that at 6.13am a Robin left the box, although there was no sign of it entering in the previous 45 minutes, so it is quite likely to have sent the night in there. The only other sightings this morning were of a visits at 7.01am which lasted some thirteen minutes, and a one minute visit at 8.01am.

At 10.25am a bumblebee went in and stayed for about four minutes.

This evening I've looked through the recording several times to see if the Robin went into the box at dusk. However, the camera 'gave up' by 6.30pm without any sign that it had returned.

The Starlings were ready to leave by 6am this morning, the male heading out at 6.07am but the female waiting another four minutes before going. She made her first visit at 6.22am and immediately started removing the bits of straw left in the boxes overnight!

At 8.15am the male appeared in box R with a long twig, only to have it removed again by the female ten minutes later. The final visit of the morning took place at 9.41am, so it looks as though they are still not ready to nest.

The Starlings in box R tonight


At the end of the afternoon the female made a brief appearance in both boxes at 6.10pm before both birds entered box R at 6.13pm, and that is where they stayed as darkness fell.

There may be regrets in the morning as the pair have been bickering for just about the whole evening.



The Great Tits had an interesting morning, although only a small amount of nesting material was added.

At 7.44am the female made her first visit, dealing with strands of spider silk that were cast across the box during the night.

Great Tit change-over sequence - 1At change-over visit took place at 7.56am, with the female closely following the male into the box this time. For a moment it looked as though she was going to leave again, but then the male flew over her and left.

As soon as she was on her own the female started to organised, performing a couple of shuffles




Great Tit change-over sequence - 2before her partner reappeared.

As soon as he landed he turned towards the female and she reached over and took his beak in hers. I assume that there was courtship feeding going on, but I could not see any food passed between them. In fact his beak didn't seem to open at all.

After that, the female pulled away but then leaned over again and pecked the male twice on his chest area before he left the box a second time.

Alone again she had a couple of quick shuffles before she too left.

After that, visits were quite spaced out - 8.18am  female brought in a few bits; 8.51am female in with nothing in beak; 9.21am a straightforward change-over visit (nothing brought in), 9.23am female in with moss; 9.24am female with more moss; 10.39am another change-over visit with nothing brought in; 11.34am the male at the entrance; 12.43pm male in for an inspection visits of over a minute (unusually long for him); 12.48pm female in with nothing in her beak.

Caterpillar delivered with moss in Great Tit box



One of the bits of moss had a small green caterpillar on it. It was only when I went through the recording at x4 speed that I realised that it was there!

It  eventually made its way up the side of the box, and must have hidden itself away as it wasn't spotted by the male during his inspection at 12.43pm.


The Great Tit nest tonight


And finally, the Great Tit nest tonight.

I've also changed the glass and removed some of the spider silk, most of which was actually on the camera side of the glass. It is being produced by at least one of the numerous Pholcus phalangioides spiders that call the nestbox tower home!


17 March - Another bright and sunny morning and a second egg for the Robins.

Mind you, something, probably a Blackbird, went out of its way to sabotage the cctv camera that watches over the Robins' box. When I switched on  the monitor at around 9am the image was not of the box, and when I went down the garden I found it pointing down at a very steep angle. The Blackbirds do perch on the camera housing from time to time, but it must have taken quite some force to knock it out of position like that. A small g-clamp has now been added to secure the camera further.

I didn't see any visits today, although I must assume that the female will be in the box tonight. I do need to sort out the problem of watching the box under lower light levels.

One of two eggs in the Robins' nest this morning


The eggs are about 12mm long, with orange/brown speckles over a light base which is usually white, although it doesn't look like that in this picture, captured with the help of my dental mirror.

The edge of the second egg is just visible at the bottom of the mirror image.



Well, the Starlings made it through the night, but by 5.50am the female was at the exit, and at 5.59am she headed into by L briefly before leaving. The male stayed in box R until 6.06am. The first visit of the morning came at 6.15am and these carried on until the last at 9.18am. Nothing was brought into either box this morning.

The male appeared several times this morning. At 6.52am he entered box L and started singing. The female followed him in but they both left straight away. There were a couple of straight forward change over visits (male in, female in, male out, female out) but no real physical interactions between the pair.

At the end of the day the female appeared briefly in first the right and then left hand box before she arrived in box L for the night at 6.01pm. The male arrived at 6.10pm and wait straight into box R - no togetherness tonight!


The Great Tit female had a busy session of nest building after a somewhat slow start. The first change-over visit took place at 7.13am, followed by a second at 8.07am and a third at 8.30am. After that the female started in earnest with twenty eight deliveries of moss and other bits before 9.52am.

Then, all went quiet, with just two more visits, the male on his open at 10.19am and the female with a last beakful of moss at 10.22am to end the morning's work.

Blackbird activity outside the Great Tit box this morning



Incidental to all this activity by the Great Tits, between 8.30-9.30am, the nestbox camera also recorded a great deal of Blackbird activity on the shed roof in front of the nestbox, going on while the female Great Tit was at her busiest.

It seems that the Blackbirds are still having some problems sorting out territories!


A bumblebee visits the Great Tit box this afternoon




The Great Tits didn't visit again today, but there was a visitor this afternoon - a bumblebee that entered the box for a very brief look around at 4.21pm.





18 March - As the Spring sunshine continues, the Robin has laid a third egg.

The female Robin at her nest this morningWhen I switched on the monitor at just before 9am the female Robin was sitting in the box and remained there just over another eleven minutes before departing.

A few minutes later and a Robin arrived at the entrance and looked in but didn't enter - was that the male checking on developments?

When I was sure that the pair were safely away I checked with the mirror and can confirm that there is now a third egg.


Telephoto lens added to cctv camera monitoring the Robin box

Soon afterwards I changed the lens on the camera (from a 90mm to a 200mm lens) so that from now on I get a closer view of the entrance.

In these two images you can see the difference the new lens makes to the un-cropped feed from the camera. I've framed the image to include the perch below the entrance.

I just hope that the Blackbirds will be more considerate from now on!

The Robin has started incubating her eggs


I'm glad that I got on and changed the lens when I did, because somewhat to my surprise the female seemed to have started to incubate the eggs, at least part-time. She is in there as I write this at 3.20pm. I will add some timings when I review the recording this evening.

When she sits on the eggs it is just possible to make out the top of her head and usually just a bit of one eye.


While I can't tell when she laid her egg, the Robin's movements in and out of the box started when she left for what is probably the first time at 7.09am. After that she spent seven periods of between 31-56 minutes and totalling just under 5 hours sitting on the eggs during the day. During one of the morning sessions, between 8.30-9.15am she was visited three times by her partner.


A bumble bee threatens to enter the Robin boxThere was a worrying moment for her at 2.32pm as this rather poor image indicates. She was visited by a bumblebee queen that wanted to explore the darkness of the box.

The robin watched it as it flew from side to side and this frame from the recording shows the moment when it got nearest to entering the box.

However, it left as suddenly as it arrived and the robin remained sat on her eggs.


I cannot be certain, but as the image failed at dusk I think she entered the box at 6.29pm.


The Starlings continue to keep us waiting. They were active by 5.40am, out at 6.02am and the first visit by the female was at 6.16am. Between then and the last visit of the morning at 9.28am the male didn't appear in the boxes at all, and the female only made a small number of visits.

At the end of the day the female made brief visits to both boxes at 5.51 and 6.08pm and it was at 6.19pm that both birds arrived, heading into their usual separate boxes to roost.


The Great Tits started their day with the only change-over visit of the day at at 6.57am, although the male was in again a few minutes later. This time, the female entered first and did a bit of organising. Then the male entered are what I assume was courtship feeding took place again. It was very similar to what happened on the 16th, with the female taking the male's beak in hers , and afterwards pecking his chest feathers twice before he left.

Between then and 10am there were 24 visits, although she only brought something in on nineteen of them. She visited once more, at 11.46am but again she brought nothing in.

The Great Tit nest tonight - side view


This is their nest tonight, first photographed from the side in the usual way,



The Great Tit nest tonight - view via mirror

and then via the mirror that I have installed ready for photography of the chicks when they arrive. This is the nearest that I will be able to get to photographing down into the nest (about 40 from the vertical, although I haven't measured it accurately).

It won't be long before the floor of the box is completely covered.



19 March - The bright days continue, although with the temperature dipping to just above 2C around dawn this morning I was surprised to see that the Robin had left her nest by 6am and didn't return until after 9.30am. It is unlikely that I will risk approaching the nest from now on, so I will have to wait until I can do a head count of chicks to see if more eggs are laid.

The female Robin in her nest this morning


The Robin appears to have left the box for the first time before 6am and re-entered for the night at 5.22pm.

 Interestingly, looking at the day's recording I see that the Robin spent just a little longer incubating than she did yesterday, at 5hr 23min, with 6 sessions averaging just over 53minutes.



While I  did see a change-over visit at 8.35am in the Great Tit box, and I need to check the recordings later, it seems that this pair may be having a quiet day.

Looking at the recording has confirmed that initial comment. In fact, it has me a little concerned about the female. The first visits of the day was a change-over sequence at 7.07am. Then at 7.43, 7.49, and 7.52am the female made her only individual visits of the day, with only two bits of nesting material brought in. She appeared just once more, at 8.35am for another change-over visit when she didn't bring anything in but did shuffle several times.

The male did appear again. At 10.37am he visited the box, spending time calling and even shuffling (a little bit) a couple of times before leaving again. At 5.15pm he was outside the entrance looking in and calling again.


The Starlings are also quiet again, although a couple of lengths of straw did appear during the morning visits.

They were active by 5.50am and out at 6am, the female's first visit taking place thirteen minutes later. While the male did appear several times the two birds didn't meet up in the boxes at all. On several visits small bits of straw were brought in, and the female shuffled a couple of times, but at least a couple of the bits were removed again, and the morning visits ended at 9.52am.

As dusk approached, the female started visiting again at 5.17pm, the male entering box R briefly at 5.18pm. Then, there was some coming and going by the female before she finally entered box L for the night at 6.12pm, the male retiring to box R six minutes later.


20 March - As the sunshine continues there is no cause for concern at the Great Tit box. There was a bird at the entrance at 6.50am and a minute later the pair had their first change-over visit of the day. Between then and 9am there was one more change-over visit, and the female was in eighteen times, of which fourteen were to bring in nesting materials.

After nine o'clock things quietened down quickly with just two visits in the next half hour. after that it was 12.08pm before there was another visit - a change-over visit. There was just more visit when the female entered without anything in her beak at 3.22pm when she spent a bit of time working on the nest, with a couple of shuffles included.

The Great Tit nest tonight



This is the nest tonight, showing a bit of progress, although the floor is still visible.



The Starlings are once more bringing bits in and taking them out again this morning, and the Robin continues to give occasional glances towards camera as incubation continues.

They were active by 5.50am and out at 5.59am, with the female's first visit at 6.11am. The nearest the pair came to meeting up in the boxes this morning was when the male entered box L at 7.02am and started calling. the female appeared at the entrance with a bit of plant material in her beak, but she didn't enter and the male left straight away. The morning visits ended at 9.40am.

At the end of the day the female appeared in box L at 6.16pm, and there was then a series of short visits by both birds to the boxes before they retired for the night into their seperate boxes at 6.31pm.

The Robin male was active early this morning, and he visited the female at 5.59am . She left for the first time at 6.24am, returning ten minutes later.

For the rest of the day she was sitting on the eggs for a total at 560 minutes over 9 sessions, an average of just over 62minutes per session. (they ranged from 42min to 1hr 27min in length).

She returned to the box for the night at 5.27pm. Looking at the day's figures, it looks as though she was only away from the box for a total of 1 hr 43min today.

Robin male arrives at box with a caterpillar for his mate


The male visited the box nine times during the day, although on three occasions the female was absent. This cctv image show one of those moments, when he turned up with a small green caterpillar for his partner - she turned up two minutes after he had left!



- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2009 Nestbox Diary Index...........Start of the Year..........  March (part 3)